Following the recent publication of the Russia report, it got me thinking of other times in history when Russia’s behaviour has impacted on Scotland. And it reminded me of my childhood.

Growing up in a household in Ness, at the northern tip of the isle of Lewis in the 1960s, I heard a great deal about how Soviet actions spilled out across much of Europe. The information came to me from an unusual source: those involved in the construction of the hydro dams that stretch across the north of Scotland, most built in the decade following the end of the Second World War.

My father and uncles worked in a number of them. So did several of our neighbours. Exotic place names like Mullardoch, Glenmoriston and Clunie were often to be heard in conversations at our peat-bank out on the moor or round the peat-fire in my family home. Talk would often revolve around the size and scale of the structures, the strikes and other disputes that had occurred, the roles the men undertook. My Uncle Norman drove one of the lorries bringing supplies to sites, my father mixed the cement that bolstered the constructions.

Outside of their own experiences as Gaelic-speaking Hebrideans, many working on the mainland for the first time, those men also used to talk of their workmates. There were large groups of Irishmen, largely from County Donegal and Connemara. For all that they were often different in terms of religion, there was a bond between the Hebrideans and Irishmen, based on similarities between their upbringing and tongues. I recall my Uncle Donald – who later became a Church of Scotland missionary - talking about how an Irish foreman had deliberately kept Hebrideans and his countrymen in work while paying off their urban counterparts.

It was a risky existence, especially for these Irishmen, who often volunteered for the role of “tunnel tigers”. More highly-paid than other employees, they were the ones who dug out tunnels through mountains or underneath lochs. Often working with explosives, they earned good money for a reason: they were sometimes killed or seriously injured as a result of their labours. Nearly every dam had its fatalities, with some like Glenmoriston experiencing an especially large number. I recall my father talking about how life was sometimes regarded very cheaply by those who employed them.

Yet it was another group of workmates for whom my father felt most sympathy, whose lives were often held most cheaply of all. Referred to as the “Poles”, in reality they came from across Eastern Europe, included ethnic Germans, Lithuanians, Czechs, Ukrainians and many others, often displaced at the end of the Second World War. They had found their way to Britain and there was no prospect of them ever returning “home”. Only death or the gulag waited for them in the Soviet Union. It is for this reason that they took exceptional risks during their time in the dams, undertaking many of the most dangerous tasks. They needed the cash to help establish themselves in their new lives.

Sometimes the “Poles” used to talk about the war they had gone through and how, often caught between Soviets and Nazis, it had impacted them. They would speak of villages destroyed and lives lost. They would mention, too, the choices they had been forced to make, often compelled to wear the uniforms of forces they detested and hated. Lithuanians talked of how their national identity was whittled down and destroyed in the years between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the next. Men from Ukraine spoke about the famine in their native land, where, under the rule of Stalin, more than four million died of starvation in the early 1930s. For these men, unlike my father from Lewis or those from Connemara or Donegal, there was no prospect of ever going home.

Over the last few years ethnic concerns and conflicts have returned to the continent of Europe, especially near Russian borders. While it is true that populations have not been scattered in the same ruthless manner in which they were during and after the Second World War, the teaching of minority languages is not encouraged where groups – such as the Ingush, Karachays, Meskhetians - exist.

There has also been a dilution of rights for many groups following Putin’s rise to power. Since 2017, for instance, the teaching of Tatar is no longer mandatory in the schools where that tongue was once taught. During the second Chechen war of independence, which contributed to Putin’s rise to power in Russia, between 25,000 and 50,000 were killed, putting the Kremlin’s strongman Kadyrov into power. He now implements harsh and discriminatory laws against Chechnya’s gay and nationalistic populations. Other regimes possess a similar hue.

And then there is the Ukraine, torn apart by a civil war between its Russian and Ukrainian-speaking populations. A vital component in that conflict has been Putin’s propaganda station, Russia Today. Among the stories it broadcast to justify the invasion of the Crimea in 2014 was a fake portrayal of a child being crucified by Ukrainian troops. The station also aired various explanations around the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down while flying across eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing 283, each version more incredible than the one before.

With all this is mind, it strains credulity that any democratically elected politician should appear on programmes runs by Kremlin-controlled news service, Russia Today. Yet they undoubtedly do, Alex Salmond even hosting his own show on the network. SNP MP Angus B MacNeil, a Gaelic speaker, has even appeared on the channel talking about the rights of small nations without a trace of irony.

Clearly, vital lessons have been forgotten. One can only wonder what the generation of Hebrideans who worked with my father on the Hydro dams, and the hardworking Poles who toiled alongside them, would have thought of such politicians.